Achieving confidence amidst uncertainty.

Political uncertainty and trade tensions, an increasing pressure on sustainability and carbon emissions, and a general unease about the weakness of the global economy were some of the headlines emanating from the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos.

CEO confidence in their own company’s success is taken as a leading indicator of wider economic growth. Looking at PWC’s CEO survey over the past ten years, there is evidently a strong correlation between CEO confidence in their own business success in the year ahead and actual global GDP growth. The worrying statistic is that the 2019 survey reports a 12% decline in the net balance of CEO confidence from last year.

The question is, how can we foster greater confidence? To do so, we need to dig beneath the surface. Whilst there is a 12% net balance decline in CEO confidence, if you distinguish between CEOs that are more confident vs those who are less so, you can unpick the issues which are of importance to all CEOs but are considered strategic priorities to the more confident CEOs. These few critical issues go beyond the immediate day-to-day boardroom pressures and address more important global issues, which help create the platform for growth across the business community. Here, a couple of issues come to the fore (in addition to wider geopolitical and protectionist concerns): the pace of technological change (including cyber-threats), and the availability of key skills.

This correlates with a recent Mercer study of global talent trends which found that 73% of executives predict significant industry disruption in the next 3 years (up from 26% in 2018). Over half also expect AI and automation to replace one on five of current jobs. Organisational transformation in the face of unprecedented technological change will define our era. However, the study also quotes a WEF Global Risk Report which outlines that this transformation is most significantly threatened by human capital risks, including personal stress over lack of control in the face of uncertainty.

So how do we navigate this constant process of transformation and re-evaluation? More than ever before, every organisation must have a clear understanding of their future value, and the brand they need to build around this. The most successful companies will be those that address data analytics and AI seriously, and utilise these not just to target their customers and make their operations more efficient, but also to challenge their direction and feed innovation. But beyond these organisational priorities, the fundamental underlying success factor lies in people. Amidst the fear of AI wiping out swathes of roles, it is easy to miss the bigger problem – actually filling the jobs that new technologies are creating. Back to the PWC CEO survey: the lack of availability of key skills is one of the top 10 threats to growth in every region around the world. More than 60 percent of CEOs say that it is “more difficult” to hire workers in their industry, up from 43 percent just seven years ago. A “deficit in supply of skilled workers” is the leading reason for that. We must also consider this in the context of estimates from the WEF that by 2022 AI and automation will create a net increase of 58 million jobs.

There is no question that the workforce today is more mobile and empowered. Organisations who are able to attract and retain the best talent must understand how to keep employees engaged and motivated. To achieve this, it is vital to understand their future value, redesign roles accordingly, and enable personal development through broader exposure, upskilling, collaboration and networked learning. Building engagement makes people feel part of the change they are experiencing. A sense of combined direction builds confidence, fosters communication and innovation, and keeps the people at the heart of the business abreast of the wave of transformation. They are part of the revolution, not merely subject to it.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, or perhaps to discuss a specific assignment, please do not hesitate to contact Tim Drake for an initial confidential discussion.

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Transport & Infrastructure: The Challenge for Talent

With the rail sector undergoing significant and wholesale change, the need to have the right skills and capability in place to deliver is more important than ever.

At Norman Broadbent we work across the full spectrum of the rail sector – from the TOCs, ROSCOs and Consultancies to Network Rail and the wider infrastructure sector. Our combination of research and insight enables us to identify a number of common challenges. The biggest are without doubt:

  • Do we have the right people in place to meet the challenges ahead, and;
  • Can we deliver what we need to for our customers and Stakeholders?

The answer to the above is often either “no” or a combination of “yes and no”. This is because our rail industry has been built on engineering and, more broadly, “rail people”. This has created a culture and environment that is slow, inflexible, siloed, and often blinkered in its thinking. So when it comes to embracing new things such as digital innovation and customer service, the sector is generally unprepared from a skills, experience, and even cultural perspective.


In light of this we have been supporting an ever increasing number of clients who are looking to reshape their businesses or organisation from both a structural and people perspective. This has included bringing in talented people from outside of sector to increase a much-needed diversity of thought. We have also seen a real increase in the desire to tackle the gender balance. This, we feel, has been exacerbated by the lack of female role models at the top, rather than by any lack of desire or appetite to change this within the industry.


In light of the above, we’d like to share a case study evidencing Norman Broadbent helping a major global transport business overcome these challenges. In this instance we were able to successfully deploy a range of our service offerings including Search, Leadership Assessment, Board Effectiveness, Competitor and Sector Analysis, Talent Mapping, Learning & Development, and Interim Management.


Our Client had undertaken a structural review of their business and was now looking to reshape it from a people, commercial, digital, and customer experience perspective. Based on their review they were particularly keen to:


  • Understand the strength/depth of their Leadership team and its effectiveness
  • Create and implement a new Target Operating Model to put the customer first
  • Create a robust succession strategy that focussed on both internal and external talent
  • Understand how to create greater innovation, flexibility, and diversity of thought
  • Recruit new roles in areas such as digitalisation

Solution and Outcome

Working closely with the board, we created a solution that delivered the change they were seeking.  Our approach included:

  • Leadership Assessment. We helped them understand the strengths and weaknesses of their senior leadership and, in some cases identified those who could be better utilised
  • Leadership Consulting. We undertook a project to help them better understand the effectiveness of their Board – did Board Members have the skillset to meet the needs of the business, what development needs and gaps were there, and how did this effect the overall effectiveness of the Board?
  • Interim Management. We provided them with an experienced Interim Change & Transformation Director to help develop and implement the new TOM. At the same time, the interim mentored the team to raise their overall calibre
  • Talent Mapping & Succession Planning. Using our Research & Insight capability we completed a pre-search due diligence project for the new roles identified. This informed our Client on the talent landscape, and provided them with valuable business intelligence on how organisations in and outside sector utilised their people. We also used our Research & Insight capability to aid their succession planning through the mapping of talented and experience candidates within key roles that had been identified as having poor succession internally
  • Permanent Recruitment. Utilising the insight gained and the candidates highlighted as part of the mapping process, we were able to provide our Client with a very strong shortlist at speed across a number of roles.

The outcome of this was that our Client reshaped their business from a people, effectiveness, and operations perspective so that it was fit for purpose and the future.


If you would like to discuss how Norman Broadbent could help you overcome your business or people challenges, please do not hesitate to contact us for an initial and confidential conversation. For more details contact Nick Behan on +44 (0) 0207 484 0106 or at

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Without wanting to state the obvious, we are in the midst of a significant digital transformation. Even though some dismiss ‘Industry 4.0’ as ‘marketing noise’ or ‘vapour’, shifts are happening across a number of sectors which deserve our attention.

While many organizations may still be in denial about how industry 4.0 will impact their business, or are  struggling to find the talent or knowledge to get future-fit, others are implementing changes today to prepare for tomorrow. But new technology often requires new talent. Unfortunately, that talent doesn’t traditionally sit in the industrial sector.

Digital Engineering: Digital tools, using better and more efficient delivery methods

With numerous examples of best-practice, and some exemplary projects to reference, it’s clear the tools and approaches are available today to positively transform how we deliver major infrastructure projects. The challenge is to adapt to change wholeheartedly, kick off the old habits and outdated ways of working, and build a new industry dynamic. Swift, impactful, and effective responses are hampered by the lack of R&D, as inefficient and outdated project delivery methods create a drag on our economy.

Data Capture: Drones, data capture, and asset management

Imagine an environment where logistics and supply chains are optimised … where a well-connected supply chain can adjust and accommodate as and when new information is presented. For example, if bad weather delays a shipment, a connected system can proactively adjust to that reality and modify priorities.

Modern Construction techniques: Modular, Robots, and 3D printing

Connected machines now have the ability to collect tremendous volumes of data. This can inform maintenance, highlight performance or other issues, and analyse data to identify patterns and insights incredibly quickly. Industry 4.0 offers organisations the opportunity to optimize their operations quickly and efficiently.

Once only available to large enterprises with equally large budgets, robotic technology is more affordable and readily available to organizations of every size. From picking products in a warehouse, to preparing shipments, autonomous robots can quickly and safely support a number of industry sectors, most specifically manufacturers. You only have to look at Amazon – they have used Robots to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and allow better use of floor space.

Immersive technology: The Internet of Things, and m2m

A key component of Industry 4.0 is the Internet of Things (or connected devices). Not only does such connectivity aid internal operations, but via the cloud, equipment and operations can be optimised. Data is leveraged, enabling the insights of others using the same equipment (however large or small that enterprise may be) to be shared.

Whilst innovations within the sector are still evolving, we might not have the complete picture until we look back in 30 years’ time. One thing is certain; companies who are embracing technological advances are realising the potential of Industry 4.0. These same companies are also grappling with how to upskill their current workforce and recruit new employees to take on new work responsibilities.

If you would like to discuss this article in more detail, or understand how Norman Broadbent could assist you with your ‘digital journey’, please do not hesitate to contact Tony Robinson +44 (0) 20 7484 0116 or via for an initial confidential discussion.

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Good Leaders Wanted … Apply Within

A perennial question which preoccupies business leaders and their executive search partners centres on understanding how, and where, to find the leaders of today and tomorrow. Of course, there is no easy answer. Networks and an understanding of the market are built over many years, and sometimes decades. The process is not static but continuous, and needs constant curation.

We are often asked how we patiently build, nurture, and replenish our networks ensuring Clients get a successful outcome time and again. Our specialist Consultants within the Retail & Consumer Practice follow a number of parallel methods to identify the best Talent in the interim and executive markets. These can best be summarised as follows:


  • Macro level: maintaining deep knowledge of an industry, and understanding which businesses are performing well and why.
    • Often, this is not the work of a single leader, but will be the input of multiple individuals – some of whom may have moved on.
    • Between us, Norman Broadbent’s Retail & Consumer practice meets with over two thousand industry leaders a year, giving us tremendous insight.
    • It is only with a 360-degree view of this level that we can begin to understand “who has actually done what” with regards to both successful and unsuccessful initiatives.
    • Market dynamics and competitor activity will also play a big part.
    • The best leaders are not always obvious and can come from adjacent sectors.  For example, Steve Johnson, recently appointed CEO of N Brown Plc, whom we tipped as likely successor to Angela Spindler, emerged from the financial services sector. Sometimes these individuals come from abroad, like Guus Dekkers, CTO at Tesco (Dutch, ex Airbus) or Marc Vieilledent, Chief Development Officer at easyHotel (French, ex Accor), both appointed last year.
  • Mezzo level: building a good understanding of how different businesses are structured, and what the implications of this will be both for leadership skills and for a search brief.
    • For example, we are often asked to find leaders with “full P&L and functional leadership experience” for Managing Director searches.
    • This is increasingly hard to find in a world where complexity has led to the development of matrix leadership – e.g. whilst commercial leadership sits in-market, back-office functions are shared across multiple divisions: full P&L responsibility will not be found below regional President level.
    • Smaller stand-alone businesses, and/or those that operate highly autonomous business units often prove a much better talent pool for these searches.
    • Conversely, those businesses that employ a matrix structure will need leaders who know how to influence and operate successfully even where they do not have direct responsibility.
  • Micro level: forming direct relationships with leaders at an individual level.
    • We treat every search individually, creating a search strategy tailored to a client’s specific requirements at that moment in time.
    • Approaching a broad group of people: many will be known to us already, but some will be new to our business, as we will be  to them. There is a tremendous difference when approaching these two groups.
    • Consequently, nurturing a diverse, trusted pipeline within the market through industry-relevant events, eBriefings and one-to-one meetings is a critical part of not only knowing where to find the right leaders, but of being able to engage with them quickly.

With the pace of change across the retail and consumer industries accelerating, and many established businesses being acquired and/or disappearing from the market, good leaders are becoming ever harder to identify and track. The onus is on search partners and internal talent teams to deploy all methods at their disposal to ensure businesses can identify, engage, and onboard the leaders that they need to grow and evolve.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, or discuss a specific assignment, please do not hesitate to contact Lucie Shaw (Director – Retail, Consumer & Leisure Practice) on +44 (0) 20 7484 0022 or via for an initial confidential discussion.

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Supply Chain & Logistics: Innovate or Die?

The Supply Chain and Logistics Sectors are undergoing a rapid and innovative transformation. Whether societal, environmental, or economical, the industry’s greatest challenges are being scrutinised by innovators who are developing new business models and concepts to address these challenges.

So, what are the most important, impactful innovations?

Internet of Things, Big Data, and AI

The Internet of Things includes the use of sensors, technology and networking to allow buildings, infrastructures, devices and additional ‘things’ to share supply chain information without requiring human interaction. It creates better data intelligence for all parties in a supply network.

The potential of Big Data can only be exploited by removing human involvement from the decision-making process – this is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes critical.

Robotics & Automation

Demand and supply trends, such as diminishing labour forces and the rising importance of e-commerce logistics, are driving the widespread adoption of robotics and automation in the warehouse. Whilst this is increasing logistics efficiency, it will also create social repercussions due to the threat of lost logistics jobs.


The Blockchain is a permanent digital record of transactions that are stored across a decentralised network of computers. It has benefits in many parts of the sector such as cost-saving (paperless transactions), data verification, asset tracking, ‘smart contracts’,  accountability and compliance.

Autonomous Vehicles

The phenomenon of autonomous driving has the potential to revolutionize the global logistics industry.  With technology giants such as Google and vehicle manufacturers such as Mercedes Benz investing heavily in the concept, it is only a matter of time before autonomous trucks are on roads around the world.

On-Demand and Crowd-Shipping

Developed as a way of enabling small food outlets and retailers to provide a home delivery service, on-demand technologies have the potential to be leveraged by other sectors in the last mile delivery market. Crowd Shipping, meanwhile, involving ordinary individuals delivering parcels during an existing journey, could create a major new source of capacity in the market.

Alternative Fuels

The regulation of diesel engines will mean that electricity, hydrogen cells and natural gas will power a larger proportion of trucks and vans over the coming years. However, despite a wide range of alternatives, no single form of fuel or technology will be able to replace diesel across the board.

There are many reasons for optimism. The improvements in logistics efficiency; reduced levels of environmental impact and a model, which focuses on value generation rather than on labour costs, will create long-term sustainability for the industry.

However, if the logistics sector is transformed from one of high labour intensity to one characterised by high technology and automation, what are the societal implications for the workers that are no longer required?

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, or discuss a specific assignment, please do not hesitate to contact Neal Mankey +44 (0) 20 7484 0116 or via for an initial confidential discussion.

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Is Tokenism a bad thing?


Not long after the first anniversary of gender pay gap reporting, I was out for dinner with a group of friends. Inevitably, the subject came up, and the supposed lack of female talent able to step into a senior role was mentioned. One of my female dinner guests complained how hard it was for her to get the opportunity to show how capable she was. Another replied she used the fact she was a woman to her advantage. As we all looked at her aghast, she explained.

She works in a male dominated office in a male dominated industry. As the issue of diversity became more and more important to clients, she noticed she was being invited to more client meetings. One of her male co-workers joked she was the ‘token’ woman.

‘I knew he was right, but I saw this as the perfect opportunity to show how good I am at my job’, she went on. ‘I started as the token diverse gender rep, but as soon as clients, and more importantly my team, saw I knew what I was doing and talking about, I was being invited for my expertise and knowledge.’

This token gesture, she argued, has allowed her to develop and get promoted on her skills and ability, rather than her gender. She is now in a position to help other less experienced females who may not have access to the opportunities my other dinner guest was referring to.

Whilst I instinctively loathe tokenism, I could see her point. Whilst we wish for a world where all people are treated equally in terms of opportunities, this is not the case. Research continues to demonstrate that women are less likely to ask for a pay rise than men (confidence? worth? Social conditioning?); less likely to get a pay rise when they do ask (confidence? Worth? Social conditioning?); less likely to ask for a promotion (ditto).

Working in the world of Executive Search, I meet senior women all the time. I have heard the phrases ‘lucky to have the opportunity’; ‘right place right time’; ‘willing to take a risk on me’ (this last one a particular favourite). As diversity becomes an open discussion and initiatives such as gender pay gap reporting become mandatory, I’m starting to hear phrases such as ‘I worked really hard for it; I deserved it’; ‘I actually don’t see gender as an issue in my place of work’.

At Norman Broadbent, we have a particular focus in Research & Insight on identifying diverse pools of candidates. We also practice positive action: always the right person for the job, but favouring the diverse candidate. It’s one way we can provide more opportunities (rather than ‘tokens’) and to manage the bias of clients. We have a demonstrable track record of diverse short lists and talent mapping projects that show the talent is out there: you just need to know who to ask.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, or perhaps to discuss a specific assignment, please do not hesitate to contact Jacqui Pinnell, Group Head of Research & Insight, on +44 (0) 207 484 0000 or via  for an initial confidential discussion.

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